I Know Your Dirty Little Secret

And so does Kai. And so does the Ferrett. And so does Richard Garfield.

And so does Kai. And so does the Ferrett. And so does Richard Garfield.

Now, don’t start packing your bags because your secret really isn’t all that dirty. A little confused? I think that for anyone who’s been playing for more than six months, the following question will clear up the matter:

“So what do you do for fun?”

It’s at this point that many of us might say that we write or play Chess or surf the Internet. Some of us might actually have”normal” answers to report! But what most of us will not say is,”I play Magic!” If anything, we might respond with,”I play a card game by the name of Magic: The Gathering.” Somehow,”playing Magic” just doesn’t capture the essence of what we do to the uninitiated.

But if you take the last word in that paragraph -“uninitiated” – I think that you’ll see that that’s really all that most people are. They haven’t come in contact with Magic. Maybe they’ve heard about it, or maybe they’ve even played the game. Then again, there are some people who will respond with,”You too? You going to [insert next big event]?”

This divides the general population of the world into three basic categories that I wish to explore this week: The Uninitiated, the Initiated, and the Pledged.

The Uninitiated

This is by far the largest group of people today. For the purposes of this article, let’s just limit this group to Magic-playing countries.

The Uninitiated are those who have never come in contact with Magic in any way, shape, or form. Although this group consists of”normal” people, there also have to be a fair amount of”abnormal” people – or else the number of Magic players would never increase. However, it is the assumption of most Magic players (and forgive me for generalizing) that the majority of Uninitiated they meet will be”normal.” Therefore, even mentioning that you spend your time traveling hours away to pay money to play a card game for eight to twelve hours straight while trading back and forth those pieces of cardboard in between rounds would probably label you as a person not to be close to.

It’s just that people don’t understand.

The thing that makes Magic great is the way it can (and must) change over time. Just as the American Constitution is a beautiful document in its ambiguity and openness to updating, Magic functions only by being allowed to change on a monthly basis. However, such constant changing can only happen in a setting where the game is based upon merchandise. Although rules can change every month as the DCI updates the Oracle, such changes would only last a finite amount of time if new cards weren’t being introduced every three months.

So, the first mistake that most Americans (and I can only speak for Americans and will continue to do so, regrettably due to my lack of experience with other countries) make is that Magic is just a game. Now, surely Magic is a game… But it’s not a game in the sense of the word that most people understand. When most people think of”game,” they think”board game.” These include Chess, Monopoly, and Scrabble, each of which come with a certain amount of pieces in one set package and never change. Although house rules may be applied to each game, the general rules always remain the same, as does the game itself. Even if you describe to your newly-met Uninitiated that Magic is a card game, unless this particular Uninitiated has played or heard of other CCGs (and is then probably an Initiated), the only notion of”card game” they’ll have will be a standard deck of playing cards. The term”standard” says it all.

The second mistake people make is that Magic is not a sport. To most, a sport is played with a certain set of rules with equipment that never changes in an active way. However, Webter generalizes”sport” to be”any recreational activity.” Then it says a sport is usually competitive and then physical. Notice the last part of the definition… But, since Magic isn’t widely popular, it’s often disregarded. Baseball became extremely popular and then went professional. Same with basketball and football. None of the national leagues just showed up and started playing, hoping to be recognized later. But this is just what Magic did! A small portion of the population began playing – and relatively soon, there was an international convocation of rules enforcement and tournament structure. Now we’re even to the point of having international competition, sometimes with teams! I’d say that Magic is definitely a sport… But since it went about becoming one in a”backwards” fashion, most people don’t acknowledge that.

So, what you end up with is Magic being a very unique item for most people to deal with. I know that if someone told me that, for fun, he collects frogs (six of them), counts their spots, performs statistical analysis on them, releases them to the wild one by one, and then compares his data with someone else’s in a competitive fashion, I’d think he was totally weird. It’s human nature to not associate with the unfamiliar. That’s why many of us try to avoid”admitting” that we play Magic at all costs.

The Initiated

This group of people have played – or at least heard of – Magic. Whereas the majority of Uninitiated respond to,”I play Magic: The Gathering” with a raised eyebrow, many Initiated respond with,”Is that like Pokemon?!” to which a resounding no can be heard. Sure, they have their similarities, but you’ll notice Pokemon’s lifespan – and now look at Magic’s. It pays to have a support base that makes its own decisions on how to spend money, eh?

Anyway, these people are easier to”deal with.” You’ll find that you have more in common with this person than you thought, for even knowing about Magic is a big step for most people. The main difference between the Initiated and the Uninitiated is basically a matter of information exposure. However, the difference between an Initiated and a Pledged is the understanding of what Magic is truly about.

Let’s take the Initiated who have played Magic… Or even still play. However, let’s look at one who has never attended a tournament and has no friends who have. This person will think Magic is cool and fun. He’ll enjoy playing it… But he will not be good. What this person doesn’t understand is that there’s so much more to Magic than what you open in a starter deck (for yes, he will think that starter decks are much better than boosters). This person won’t understand the depth of strategy and metagaming needed to be truly competitive. He won’t understand the huge card base needed to be truly casual. He won’t understand the rich storyline in order to be truly ensconced. He won’t understand the pervasive camaraderie among players to be truly accepted.

There’s so much he won’t know about the game that you can hardly call him a Magic player.

However, he’s ready. Take him to a tournament. Give him a Magic novel (I’d suggest The Thran). Teach him the slang. All he needs is dedication, and he can move into the ranks of the pledged.

The Pledged

This is the smallest portion of the population, yet the most dedicated to Magic. This is the person with whom you go bowling and understands your”mise” when you get a strike after two straight gutter-balls. This is the person who, when you say,”Shock or Seal for my Extended Sligh?” will discuss with you your mana curve, the metagame, and timing issues. This is the person who knows that it’s a good thing for your new computer to be broken! This is what the”camaraderie” is about.

Like I said before, Magic is a fairly unique entity, and therefore, those who play it share a lot in common. Additionally, Magic players feel a drive to share this commonality because we have a need to feel accepted. Also, all Magic players have so much more information than others (think of all the card texts, card interactions, rules, storyline, and history of the game and decks, etc. that you know that most other people don’t) that they feel like they have to share it. (Remember that all this knowledge is on top of having a”normal” life outside of Magic!) Reading articles and participating in tournaments are only some venues of expressing this commonality – programs such as Apprentice and Magic Online serve this purpose, as do discussion forums like Star City’s.

The beauty of the Pledged is that it, like Magic, is always changing. As new players join the ranks and older ones leave, the Pledged as a whole fluctuates as well. Some stay with us for a long time and leave lasting impressions (see Jamie Wakefield), while some come onto the scene with a bang and refuse to leave (see Kai Budde). Some just show up and never, ever go away (who is that Rizzo guy anyway?), while some of us kind of”disappear” while still hanging out (where ever did Omeed end up?). While the vast majority of the Pledged don’t make a spectacle of themselves by contributing to the Internet in the forms of articles, many participate in forums or at least engage personal emails with those they find online. Of course, there’s the large world of Internet trading and playing in online tournaments. And, you’ll always find your avid tournament-goers, even if they never say a word to another Magic player outside the cardshop.

One of the coolest things to me about the Pledged is our”secrecy” from the rest of the world. We post Internet articles and drive to big cities to have huge tournaments – and nobody pays any attention. The Uninitiated (and even the Initiated) have no idea of the depths of our actions, while we’re totally absorbed in them. It gives a sense of elitism almost, without that nasty effect of”we’re better than you are”ness. But amongst our own, we’re all-encompassing and accepting of anyone willing to do his part among the Pledged. (Of course, not everyone’s like this – but that’s more of a personal thing than a group thing.)

Side note: While I’m on the note of the expanding group of the Pledged, there’s a fledgling Magic site that I’d like to tell you about. It’s www.londes.com, and it’s just getting off the ground. It will sport daily articles, online tournaments, and a store. I’m only the third writer to sign up there, so you can tell that it’s just starting. When you’re done with this article (or even now if you’re so inclined), go check it out – I’m sure you’ll see the promise that I do. (Of course, if you write an article, write it for us – The Ferrett)

So, the next time you avoid describing your hobbies to someone you’ve never met (particularly of the opposite gender), I wouldn’t be ashamed of not telling them you play Magic. You’re not betraying the Pledged. Believe me, we understand! That other person probably just can’t understand what it’s all about – not yet, anyway. But, when they’re ready, ease them into it. There’s always room for another member of the Pledged.

Until next time (when we meet secretly or even in public)!

Daniel Crane

[email protected]


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